Sunday, June 13, 2010

Virtues and Vices in Proverbs: Love and Hate

Texts: Proverbs 10:12; Matthew 12:1-14

Thinking about love and hate this past week, I was reminded of one of my favorite scenes from the movie “10 Things I Hate About You.” The Valley girl-esque character Bianca and her best friend Chastity are discussing such deep thoughts as: “I know you can be overwhelmed and you can be overwhelmed but can you ever just be whelmed?” The answer: “I think you can in Europe.”

These deep conversations eventually turn to understanding love. “There’s a difference between like and love,” Bianca informs, “because I like my sketchers but I love my Prada backpack.”

“But I love my sketchers,” her friend replies.

“That’s because you don’t have a Prada backpack.”


While that analogy may not work for some/most of us, it does remind that defining and understanding even such basic virtues as love is a bit more challenging than it may appear at first glance. If you crack open the Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, you’ll find about 14 pages (with rather small font) dedicated to the definition of love. I’m pretty sure in my 5 years here, I’ve preached several sermons trying to define this virtue and I’m not sure I’ve got it yet – maybe this will be the one!

What we can say about love with relative comfort and confidence is that love is active; it’s more than a fuzzy feeling you have for a place, a loved one or yes, even your Prada backpack. Love is active – as God is active. God, who is love, is a living God, constantly at work in the world. So, too, is love. It is patient and kind and it is also on the go.

What about hate, then?

It gets less than a page in that Interpreter’s Dictionary and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sermon about it. It’s bad, sure, and not something we should avoid, but what else do we know about this vice that stirs up strife, that seems to be stirring up quite a bit of strife in our world.

Biblically – hate is something that God subscribes false festivals, meaningless worship. One of the psalms suggests that perfect hate is reserved for enemies of God, but not for our brothers or sisters, our neighbors, or, as Jesus extends, our enemies. Hate is the source of evil, a sign of life before Christ, and as complicated as love.[1]

We know too that—like love—hate is active. It’s more than just feelings of abhorrence, it’s something you do or think or say… or in some cases refrain from doing, thinking, or saying.

When we think about hate, here and now, here in our world, it may be tempting to think about the extremes. And with good reason. We read and see and hear stories about what hate has brought down upon people near and far. We may have even lived these stories ourselves. We know about bin Laden and about Hitler, we know about the Klan and about hate crimes. But the extremes aren’t the extent of hatred.

Because hate, like love, is not simple to identify, let alone avoid.

To live in love and turn away from hate, we have to be able to see and know what love and hate are. We have to be able to encounter a moment and know that an action or thought would be considered the loving OR hateful thing.

And that can be hard: in part because our culture has watered down the meanings of both words so that one can indeed love OR hate a Prada backpack or a new movie or getting up in the morning; in part because knowing what is loving or hateful requires diligence on our parts – diligence the writers of Proverbs ask of their students.

In diligence, we can note that both love and hate as described in Proverbs also make an appearance in our Gospel lesson this morning – though neither word is mentioned.

Jesus is challenged by the Pharisees for working on the Sabbath—first picking grain in order that people might eat and then for healing…

We don’t know anything about the man Jesus heals– about his past, his purpose, his faith – anything. Jesus enters the synagogue and the narrator let’s us know there is a man with a withered hand there. Before the narration suggests Jesus has approached this man, the Pharisees are asking questions about healing on the Sabbath. Spotting this man and his hand, they take the opportunistic moment to try and trap Jesus.

Jesus, however, does not allow himself to be caught in the midst of one-upmanship or legalism or whatever else the Pharisees were hoping to achieve. Rather, he offers this:

“Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

The actions of the love and the actions of hate may seem simple enough to spot in this story. Jesus offers love when he heals the man. The Pharisees offer hate when they try and trap Jesus, when they conspire against him in order to destroy him.

Love heals; hate destroys.

Simple and true.

But there’s more in this story.

The Pharisees are using the man with the withered hand’s for their own means – they are using him as one might an animal.

But Jesus does not let this man be used. He heals him, yes, but he also speaks of his value, his worth.

In love, Jesus values this man. In hate, the Pharisees do not.

Love builds up, makes whole, heals.

Hate tears down, breaks, harms.

In love, we recognize the image of God in another person…

In hate, we dehumanize another person... we deny that he or she is God’s creation.

Moments of love and hate, actions where we offer either—they can be big or they can be small. Either way, they matter.

When you’ve had a bad day, when you’ve been made to feel small and inadequate, the person holding the door open for you as you go into a store, or the one who offers you a smile as you pass by on the street—these strangers with their little acts can offer healing on your wounds. They are moments that remind us that yes, we are human, and someone, and worth the time it takes to say hello. Love is impactful.

And so is hate. Hatred stirs up strife – even a small moment where we deny another human being his or her value can cause strife—in you, in them, in others… Think, for example, about something as simple and prolific as yelling or rolling your eyes at the person going 5 miles below the speed limit in front of you. It may not be racism or xenophobia, but it’s still a moment of hate. And even if the other person doesn’t catch on, it’s still destructive to the image of God in you.

Love and hate are easy enough words to throw around, but to know what they mean, what they are, that takes a little more effort. And to seek one and avoid the other, that takes diligence.

May the Lord who calls us out of hate and into love, out of the darkness and into the light, strengthen us in our diligence, in our wisdom, in our love. Amen.

[1] See: Isaiah 1:14; Psalm 139:19-22; Deut 19:11; 2 Sam 13:15; Luke 6:27; John 3:20; Titus 3:3; Luke 14:26